Encouraging Time Off in the Age of COVD

Studies consistently show that unplugging from work does wonders for job performance, job satisfaction, and individual mental health, but all too often it seems impossible to unplug from work. Last year, 30% of American employees reported a reluctance to take time off, saying they feared that it would negatively affect raises, promotions, or their perceived productivity at work. Employers understand that this is often an unnecessary concern, but it can, unfortunately, be perpetrated by your company culture.

Moving to remote working happened rapidly and while ultimately it will likely have a positive impact on American workers and organizations, the stress that came as a part of the transition is undeniable. Workplaces shifted, company cultures adapted, and employees took on a whole new form of work-life balance. Now, many employees work where they live; some are beginning to transition back to the office; and many are balancing kids and spouses who are at home, and needing support on an unanticipated level. These personal and professional complications make it difficult to even think about taking time off, but this is all the more reason to encourage it.

Employees may not be able to fly to the beach or visit their favorite resort, but in a time of shared trauma and excessive stress (brought on by a global pandemic), allowing time for employees to recuperate and refresh can make all the difference in their mental well-being and performance at work. Accordingly, you should encourage, and possibly require, employees to take time off during the pandemic. You may even want to provide incentives to ensure employees feel that they really can disconnect and make sure that they’re fully unplugging! 

These expectations start with company culture, and for many organizations, they may have unintentionally shifted (or not). Managers may commonly reach out to employees after hours, and employees make respond to emails or calls during the weekend.  While these things may not feel impactful, they can lead to increased employee burn out and disconnectedness.

The key to helping your employees make it through the pandemic is remembering their humanity and your own. No matter what we are facing, taking a break from work can be just what is needed to recuperate and care for our mental health. Taking a vacation yourself and truly unplugging can set the example for your employees, and encouraging management to restrict communication to business hours can set the tone.

Often, we do not consider vacation when we cannot leave the house, but with the stay at home orders and restrictions we’ve faced from COVID-19, time to unplug is even more important. Use existing incentive programs to encourage PTO, address company culture so employees feel time off is accessible, and make sure, as always, that you are considering the humanity of your workforce. We all feel a little disconnected as we are working away from the office, but more than ever we all need the chance to take a break and take care of our mental health.

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